“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.” – Cicero
This quote is attributed to Cicero, the Roman lawyer who himself railed against the excesses of the late Roman Republic in many of his prosecutions, most famously against Gaius Verres. Ironically, one of the charges against Verres was that he enriched himself through public construction contracts, most notably fixing the temple of Castor and Pollux. The Roman Republic eventually destroyed itself through corruption, disorganisation and bloody battle.
But this is 2016 and we should have learnt from history. The past two weeks have been dismal for South Africa. We are on tenterhooks, not knowing whether Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan will be charged by the Hawks or fired in a Cabinet reshuffle, or both. One wonders each morning what fresh Hell the President might unleash, spurred on by his merry band of corrupt and compromised supporters. It’s an untenable situation, causing untold harm to the economy, policy paralysis and a split in the Cabinet itself.
Last week we witnessed Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin doing a sort of “fire us if you dare” routine under the full glare of the Press. How times have changed. Not so long ago, Nzimande was telling us that Zuma would be the savior of the post-Mbeki years.
Characteristically, President Jacob Zuma has been virtually silent, a man more accustomed to operating in the shadows. His statement of supposed support for Gordhan was spoken with the proverbial forked tongue. The Hawks only act with impunity because they know they have political backing.
The smoke and mirrors has also caused many including the EFF’s Julius Malema to start muddying the waters. If Gordhan has nothing to hide, he should present himself to the Hawks, Malema and others say, while still others cry that Gordhan believes he is above the law.
The problem with this argument is that on the basis of the letter Gordhan received from the Hawks, he did not commit any criminal offence. Appearing before the Hawks would not only be sanctioning a form of legal harassment but would be akin to Gordhan surrendering his own rights in terms of the Constitution. No rational citizen would do that.
But we should not be surprised at the ham-handedness of the Hawks. Nor should we be surprised that the pliable and lily-livered NPA head Shaun Abrahams would be prepared to do the president’s bidding in trying to remove Gordhan from office. Both Abrahams and Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza were handpicked, after all – and not for their skill.
Where there is a vacuum of leadership and commitment to constitutional principles, is it any wonder then that there is room for all manner of men and women to step into the breech? It is the environment that Zuma and “his” part of the ANC have created, as far back as Polokwane. Anyone who believed Zuma would be able to provide our country with the requisite leadership was not paying attention during his years as MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal or during the tawdry Schabir Shaik trial or indeed, his rape trial. He was never good enough for South Africa, with poor judgment and an inability to keep away from unsavoury manipulators.
That culture of corruption has simply been brought to the Union Buildings, with serious consequences for South Africa’s future. Into this vacuum, ministers and ANC leaders like Bathabile Dlamini, Lindiwe Zulu, and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula felt most comfortable attacking the young women who protested at the IEC in support of justice for all rape victims, including Khwezi. That these ministers almost came to fisticuffs with those who disagreed with them shows just how far they would go to defend Zuma and also how low the ANC has sunk.
Zuma’s Cabinet has become an incoherent free-for-all. It is into this vacuum then that Minerals Resource Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, can step in and issue a statement confirming a Cabinet “decision” to initiate a judicial inquiry into the banking sector. Only much later did government issue a press statement saying that this was not a decision of Cabinet.
At that point, Zuma, Gordhan and the minister “with the hole in her head”, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, were at the G20 in China. One wonders quite how Gordhan is meant to convince investors and the global community that we are trying to sort out the mess of SOEs, corruption and waste when accompanied by Zuma, who is opinion-free at best and at worst simply a poor ambassador for our collective national interest.
Where there is a leadership vacuum it also provides deputy ANC secretary-general Jessie Duarte to spew forth in ignorance about the powers and constitutional position of the SA Reserve Bank.
Into vacuums ignorance falls and the public debate becomes poisoned.
Deputy defence minister, Kebby Maphatsoe, was comfortable leading a “defend the ANC” march as a counter to the “Occupy Luthuli House” one that took place outside Luthuli House on Monday. Of course, Maphatsoe also casually and carelessly accused former Defence minister, Ronnie Kasrils, of instigating “Khwezi” to bring a rape charge against Zuma. Kasrils sued for defamation and Maphatsoe settled, paying Kasrils R500,000. He also mouthed off and accused Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of being a “CIA agent”. Again, in the vacuum anything can be said and done if it obfuscates and ensures protection for the president. And so it goes.
In the public discourse, the vacuum encourages a lack of thoughtfulness and nuance regarding our intractable challenges. Everyone is seeking a platform; everyone is seeking a soapbox to peddle the obvious.
The challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment take a back seat in the internecine battles of the ANC, fuelled by those who seek only power and access to state resources. We seem unable to have even the simplest national conversations without them imploding into retribution and race baiting.
The ANC alone cannot fix it. It has become too embroiled in its own internal quagmire. It is now incapable of leading and transforming itself, let alone providing societal leadership.
What #OccupyLuthuliHouse has shown on the streets of Johannesburg is a party tearing itself apart. Luthuli House now needs rings of steel to protect itself from itself. It is a sad reflection of the state of the ANC and of our leadership itself.
So if the ANC cannot fix it, then citizens must – divided as we are. It will take a mammoth collective effort from business, civil society and communities to rise up and speak out against the inaction fuelled by those who would consign our country to the dustbin of corrupt politics. It is not too late to do so and the election results have unleashed new energy that will need to be channelled carefully and strategically so that citizens can dictate the conversation about the future.
Already, brave men and women are speaking up. Who can forget Sipho Pityana’s eloquent address at the funeral of Makhenkesi Stofile? Full of courage and passionate intensity, that message needs to be endorsed by business and communities and needs to be heard by our compromised Parliament.
We are just about surviving the “fools and the ambitious”. Now it is time to deal with “the treason from within” through every constitutional means possible. DM